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Your septic system works tirelessly every day treating all the wastewater coming from your home. Every flush of the toilet, grey water from a shower, or load of laundry is treated by the hard-working microbes in your septic system. Septic tanks require a delicate balance of bacteria and enzymes to break down waste. In return, the bacterial action in the septic tank needs some regular care and maintenance to keep it healthy and in working order. Using harsh dishwashing detergents or laundry soaps may be disrupting that delicate process.

The first way to care for your septic system is to pay close attention to the ingredients contained in the products that you wash down the drains. Many products contain ingredients that are harmful to your septic system by encouraging algae growth, killing the good bacteria, and shortening the tank’s useful life.


Why Your Dishwasher Detergent Matters

Dishwashers, like laundry washing machines, tend to use a lot of water. But when it comes to septic issues, this usually is not the problem. Typically, the detergent is the one to blame.

For starters, dishwasher detergents labeled as “anti-bacterial” are not good for your system. The “anti-bacterial” detergents cannot differentiate between “bad” bacteria and the “good” bacteria in your septic tank. Therefore, the detergent will kill off the bacteria that works to break down solid waste. Without enough bacteria, solid waste will build up faster, resulting in more frequent septic pumping needs and the risk of backups and damaged drain fields.

Additionally, some dishwasher detergents have phosphates, which can kill the enzymes and bacteria in your tank. Phosphates are non-organic chemicals derived from salts and phosphorous. When combined proportionately, they form an acid that is supposed to be helpful in cleaning dishes and removing grime. The downside, though, is that phosphates can kill off bacteria and enzymes.

In the United States, phosphates have been banned from laundry detergent. However, they are still used in other types of household soaps – including dishwasher detergent. Only a handful of states have banned the use of phosphates in dishwasher soap.


Best Dishwasher Detergent for Septic Systems

With so many dishwashing detergents available in the supermarket, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one for your septic system. Dishwashing detergents come in many forms: cartridges, gel, liquids, pacs, powders and tablets. These products may contain bleach, enzymes and rinsing aids. Some dishwashing detergents still contain phosphorus. Phosphorus is removed from wastewater by being chemically bound to minerals and held on exchange sites on soil particles and it is chemically bonded to iron, calcium and aluminum in a process called adsorption.

The main ingredient in liquid soaps is water, while in powders it is alkaline salt such as sodium carbonate. The main active ingredients are detergents. Many products contain thickening and stabilizing agents. Other ingredients include surfactants, hydrotropes (which allow for concentrated formulations), preservatives, fragrances, perfumes and dyes. Surfactants typically cause foaming or suds in water.

Take a closer look at the ingredients and don’t pay so much attention to the flashy and catchy advertising phrases these dish washing companies use to sell their products. What you are looking for are dishwashing liquids with mild detergents. Your septic tank is relying on bacteria buildup to break down all that waste, and those toxic soaps harm the natural bacterial action. Avoid any that read “antibacterial.”

When buying a dishwasher detergent, choose products that are:

  • Phosphate-free
  • Non-antibacterial
  • Eco-friendly
  • Biodegradable

Typically, a detergent that checks all these boxes will be labeled with these terms. They might also be called “septic-safe,” but it is still wise to check the packaging and fine print.


Septic System Dishwasher Guidelines

  1. Make sure your drain field is working properly and is not showing any signs of failure
  2. Make sure your drain field has the ability to handle/absorb effluent (waste water)
  3. Avoid antibacterial detergents
  4. Always buy an Energy-Efficient dishwasher. These use less water which will help prevent your septic from effluent over load.
  5. Only run your dishwasher with a full load


Septic System Dishwasher Tips

  • Avoid using the dishwasher at the same time as the washing machine or using the shower. This can severely overload your septic tank. Instead, spread out your major water usage throughout the week or day.
  • Upgrade your dishwasher, if necessary. Older models tend to be less efficient than newer ones.
  • Always run the dishwasher with a full load. This way, you can make the most out of the water and energy.


Have Questions? Contact West Coast Sanitation

Using the right dishwasher detergent for your septic system is the best thing you can do. Not only does it extend the life of your system, but it protects the environment as well.

At West Coast Sanitation, we know that you do not have time to deal with septic problems. One of the ways you can maintain this balance and keep your septic system working like it should is to have your tank pumped regularly. Please give us a call at (951) 780-5922 right away. We have professionals ready to answer your questions and get your system working properly again.

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